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View Full Version : Massive derailment and explosion on the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic


ShortlinesUSA
07-08-2013, 05:56 PM
No doubt many of you have heard of this accident by now. In the early morning hours of July 6, 2013, an MMA unit crude oil train apparently rolled away from its tie down point for a crew change and became a runaway, which ultimately decimated several blocks of downtown Lac Megantic, QC.

MMA's press releases on the event can be found here:

http://www.mmarail.com/mma_news.php

Many possible twists to the possible causes, including a fire on the lead unit which the local fire department extinguished. It is beginning to sound as if the responders shut that unit down to battle the blaze, and it is possible it was the only one left running to provide air to keep the brakes set. Air bled down, and off she goes.

In one news report which may be the most telling, a resident near the siding saw the train roll by with no lights on approximately 5 minutes after the fire department left the scene.

The report also noted MMA mechanical personnel were dispatched to the scene and were aware the unit was shut down.

So, so many pieces to this puzzle have yet to be disclosed, but to say the least, the event is an absolute tragedy for all of those involved. There are also potential major implications for the MMA and rail crude oil transport in general.

This will be an unfortunately historic event for years to come, I am certain.

CBC has extensive coverage of the event, and numerous photos of the destruction:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2013/07/07/quebec-train-derailment-explosion-lac-megantic.html

ShortlinesUSA
07-08-2013, 08:51 PM
The fire department story is starting to get out there more widespread. Initially came up in blogs, but now is taking hold. Here is the latest:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/08/us-train-idUSBRE96505L20130708

jnohallman
07-08-2013, 11:08 PM
One wonders if this will lead to some changes in operating rules, such as where you can tie down a train (note, not on a grade would seem to be a good idea, though maybe hard to find in some places), or whether operating with a one-man crew is a good idea. I know MM&A has been crying poor for a while and pushed for one-man crews as necessary to stay in business, but one wonders how good an idea it is in the long run. Perhaps if they need to do that, using a caboose as the spacer car between the engines and the oil cans so that the engineer could sleep near the train in a circumstance like this? That way he would have been easy to find when the firefighters came to deal with the initial fire, and could have brought another unit online immediately.

Jon

troy12n
07-09-2013, 12:15 AM
Correct me if I am wrong, but I dont think trains can tie down on a mainline without a crewmember present anymore due to some runaways a few years back. And most railroads have rules about how many handbrakes have to be set, etc, etc

And if this railroad was crying poor before this, how about now, after they destroyed a town. Seen the aerial photos? Half the town was blown away.

JRMDC
07-09-2013, 02:47 AM
Any knowledge of petroleum here? Of course crude oil is flammable but I didn't think it was explosive; I thought one had to refine it to turn it into a more volatile substance. How did it come to explode? Does a significant amount of volatile vapor build up in a tank car?

troy12n
07-09-2013, 10:44 AM
Any knowledge of petroleum here? Of course crude oil is flammable but I didn't think it was explosive; I thought one had to refine it to turn it into a more volatile substance. How did it come to explode? Does a significant amount of volatile vapor build up in a tank car?

Reports are it hit a LPG car or 2 in the yard it derailed in

jac_murphy
07-09-2013, 03:56 PM
The opinions I've heard seem to state that crude oil is a lot more explosive than people expect it to be (especially the light sweet crude that originates in the Bakken fields) mostly because it still contains a high number of volatile compounds that have yet to be removed in the refining process.

As for the LPG tanks, that has yet to be confirmed. There are no LPG customers for the railroad anywhere in the area, but anything is possible, I suppose.

-Jacques

jnohallman
07-09-2013, 07:26 PM
Any knowledge of petroleum here? Of course crude oil is flammable but I didn't think it was explosive; I thought one had to refine it to turn it into a more volatile substance. How did it come to explode? Does a significant amount of volatile vapor build up in a tank car?

I suspect the explosion was the result of "compression" - which is the same thing that makes gunpowder or the gasoline in your car explosive. Pour any of the three out on the ground and toss a match and you'll get a nice fire, but no explosion. However, when you constrain them and then ignite them, the thermal expansion and release of gases as a result leads to an explosion. In the case of the oil, my understanding is the cars are filled to the brim so there's no sloshing. Hence, there's also the necessary conditions for explosion.

Jon

troy12n
07-09-2013, 11:58 PM
Something missing in all this conversation is that as of this moment, 15 people are dead and close to 40 are.

CNN is reporting the train was tampered with. What this means is anyone's idea. I think it's going to be pretty difficult to prove. It's also real easy for the engineer who was the only person operating the train, and on the scene (one man crew, got to love Canada) to say he set hand brakes. No one to prove him otherwise. It's real easy for the railroad or engineer to blame terrorists, or some other wack job. The "terrorism" boogey man is an easy out for everyone. It still does not excuse the railroad for leaving the train unattended, to save a few bucks. How's that going to work out for you now?

Bottom line, I think it's pretty negligent in this day and age to leave a train loaded with hazmat tied up unattended. And on a grade no less.

nikos1
07-10-2013, 02:01 AM
When leaving a train sitting for any long period arn't you required to tie enough handbrakes to stop the train from moving? From reports some were tied due to the sparks seen but clearly they were insufficient.
I bet this will probably the final nail in the coffin for the MMA.

troy12n
07-10-2013, 11:56 AM
When leaving a train sitting for any long period arn't you required to tie enough handbrakes to stop the train from moving?

Yep, depending on the railroad's rules, some railroads dont leave trains unattended on the main anymore.

From reports some were tied due to the sparks seen but clearly they were insufficient.
I bet this will probably the final nail in the coffin for the MMA.

Guess we will see, penny wise but pound foolish.

ShortlinesUSA
07-10-2013, 02:52 PM
Troy, MMA operates with one man crews on both sides of the border, not just Canada. When I visited the railroad in 2010, Trains 1/2 between Millinocket and Montreal were two man crews, but as time got leaner from then on, even those road trains went to one man remote control operation. Even at that time, those were about the only trains left which were not one man operations.

The Bangor Daily News has done a nice summary of the MMA's first 10 years of operation, and as you can see, most of the news has been bad. I tend to agree with Nikos, in that this accident is likely to finish off the MMA. I just don't see them having the resources to recover from a disaster of this magnitude, especially if they are found negligent.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/07/09/business/ten-years-of-highs-and-lows-for-montreal-maine-and-atlantic-railway/

troy12n
07-10-2013, 03:12 PM
Troy, MMA operates with one man crews on both sides of the border, not just Canada. When I visited the railroad in 2010, Trains 1/2 between Millinocket and Montreal were two man crews, but as time got leaner from then on, even those road trains went to one man remote control operation. Even at that time, those were about the only trains left which were not one man operations.

Are you sure about that? I was not aware that the FRA had approved one man crews anywhere outside of yard jobs, and even then very specific requirements had to be met. Might want to verify that.

The Bangor Daily News has done a nice summary of the MMA's first 10 years of operation, and as you can see, most of the news has been bad. I tend to agree with Nikos, in that this accident is likely to finish off the MMA. I just don't see them having the resources to recover from a disaster of this magnitude, especially if they are found negligent.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/07/09/business/ten-years-of-highs-and-lows-for-montreal-maine-and-atlantic-railway/

Most shortlines are operating on such thin margins they cut corners everywhere

ShortlinesUSA
07-10-2013, 05:48 PM
Take a look at RCO operations and the FRA, and you'll find a bunch of angry letters from the UTU begging the FRA to regulate RCO operations. What they have is guidelines, "should" this and "should" that. When I explain regulatory writing to my employees, I tell them the litmus test for something they've written is to replace "should" with "won't" and see if the statement still meets the intent of what you're trying to write.

One man crews essentially happen on a number of shortlines every day in the US. Conductor gets the train together with the engineer, brake test complete, and off the conductor goes in a company truck to the next spot down the line where the crew has switching to do.

I believe all of this will come into question in the aftermath of Lac Megantic. The big issues (like how to properly secure a train of hazmats) will be dealt with first, but then the ancillary human factors will come into play. I think that is where you'll see the discussion of RCO and one man crews finally get tackled, and maybe even some regulations instead of guidelines.

troy12n
07-10-2013, 06:19 PM
Take a look at RCO operations and the FRA, and you'll find a bunch of angry letters from the UTU begging the FRA to regulate RCO operations. What they have is guidelines, "should" this and "should" that. When I explain regulatory writing to my employees, I tell them the litmus test for something they've written is to replace "should" with "won't" and see if the statement still meets the intent of what you're trying to write.

One man crews essentially happen on a number of shortlines every day in the US. Conductor gets the train together with the engineer, brake test complete, and off the conductor goes in a company truck to the next spot down the line where the crew has switching to do.

I understand this, but from reports, I think there are limitations, like the conductor has to be within a certain distance of the train. Based on accounts I have read, MM&A was operating just one crewmember, an engineer, in the train, no conductor. Which apparently is allowed in Canada, at least on this railroad

I believe all of this will come into question in the aftermath of Lac Megantic. The big issues (like how to properly secure a train of hazmats) will be dealt with first, but then the ancillary human factors will come into play. I think that is where you'll see the discussion of RCO and one man crews finally get tackled, and maybe even some regulations instead of guidelines.

RCO operations inside yard limits is approved by the FRA, mainline operations by one man crews or RCO I dont think is... If it was, you can bet your ass every Class 1 would be doing it... if you can find evidence that I am wrong, let me know.

http://www.fra.dot.gov/eLib/details/L02960

Q-15. Can I leave the yard and operate on the main track or an industrial lead?

A. Yes. However, there are certain limitations on the types of trains that can be hauled using the current RCL technology (see the letter included at the end of this document) and you must be properly trained for these moves. FRA has taken the position that any move that requires a brake test under Part 232 becomes a train movement rather than a switching movement. Railroads have air brake and train handling instructions to govern engineers operating trains. These instructions are currently incompatible with RCL technology. Therefore, railroads must develop instructions governing RCOs operating RCL trains. The RCOs must be trained on these instructions and trained on the routes they will travel. The amount of training time will depend on the operations involved and should be arrived at through the collaborative efforts of local labor and management.

jac_murphy
07-10-2013, 06:46 PM
I understand this, but from reports, I think there are limitations, like the conductor has to be within a certain distance of the train. Based on accounts I have read, MM&A was operating just one crewmember, an engineer, in the train, no conductor. Which apparently is allowed in Canada, at least on this railroad

RCO operations inside yard limits is approved by the FRA, mainline operations by one man crews or RCO I dont think is... If it was, you can bet your ass every Class 1 would be doing it... if you can find evidence that I am wrong, let me know.

You are correct about the train operating with only a single crewmember (no conductor in the chase vehicle.)

However, the MMA has been using these one-man operations in Maine for several years now; it was only recently that they got regulatory approval to do the same in Canada.

I don't know about all the constraints that come with these one-man operations other than the fact that trains are limited to 35mph. This may explain why the Class 1 railroads are reluctant to do the same, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was more that I'm not aware of.

-Jacques

ShortlinesUSA
07-10-2013, 06:50 PM
Troy, the article here definitely suggests a special exception north of the border:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/the-blame-game-is-in-full-swing-in-the-lac-megantic-tragedy/article13103257/

I can't find anything firm enough to hang my hat on for the US operations, other than ancillary statements saying all jobs on the MMA are one man operations. I can tell you with absolute certainty, during my visit there in 2010, the only train I saw with a two person crew was #2 coming in from Montreal. Every other train on the line north of Millinocket and south to Northern Maine Jct was one person out on the mainline. They had a utility man show up and help them if switching was needed, but if it was a point to point run, one guy did it.

ShortlinesUSA
07-10-2013, 07:28 PM
Nothing like being put on public trial by your employer:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/07/10/quebec-train-crash-brakes/2506015/

troy12n
07-10-2013, 11:39 PM
However, the MMA has been using these one-man operations in Maine for several years now; it was only recently that they got regulatory approval to do the same in Canada.

The space shuttle only had 2 failures, what is an acceptable loss rate?

NS had a little issue in Graniteville, SC a few years ago and all sorts of new rules came out of it.

This one is much worse.

troy12n
07-10-2013, 11:41 PM
I don't know about all the constraints that come with these one-man operations other than the fact that trains are limited to 35mph. This may explain why the Class 1 railroads are reluctant to do the same, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was more that I'm not aware of.

-Jacques


The constraints are on the last page of the linked webpage, it's a memo from the FRA dated 2007 listing the VERY LIMITED conditions of which RCO's can operate OUTSIDE of yard limits. Key words VERY LIMITED.

jac_murphy
07-11-2013, 04:56 AM
The constraints are on the last page of the linked webpage, it's a memo from the FRA dated 2007 listing the VERY LIMITED conditions of which RCO's can operate OUTSIDE of yard limits. Key words VERY LIMITED.

Something has definitely changed since then, in that case.

Whatever the outcome, I'm sure that the regulators in both countries will be taking a very hard look at one-man operations in the face of this incident. Frankly, I won't be too heartbroken to see it fall by the wayside - or disappear altogether (but I highly doubt that'll happen.)

-Jacques

ShortlinesUSA
07-11-2013, 01:13 PM
Here's an article that deals almost exclusively with the one-man crew operations on the MMA, citing both TC and FRA policies on the practice:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/mma-ceo-says-one-person-crews-still-best/article13128651/

troy12n
07-11-2013, 03:34 PM
We actually think that one-man crews are safer than two-man crews because there’s less exposure for employee injury and less distraction [for operators]

What a joke. This guy is officially a clown. He fits right in with most shortline owners who are a combination of shyster, carney, swindler and charlatan.

One man crews are good for ONE thing, and ONE thing only: saving the operator money. PERIOD.

I hope this jars the FRA into action and puts the idea of one man crews and RCO's on mainlines to rest for good.

bigbassloyd
07-11-2013, 03:56 PM
I'm amazed at how quickly they threw the engineer under the bus... Providing his name, location, work history, etc.

Loyd L.

jac_murphy
07-11-2013, 04:44 PM
I'm amazed at how quickly they threw the engineer under the bus... Providing his name, location, work history, etc.

Loyd L.

That wasn't the company; the media dug up the information several days ago.

-Jacques

troy12n
07-11-2013, 09:49 PM
I'm amazed at how quickly they threw the engineer under the bus... Providing his name, location, work history, etc.

Loyd L.

Where is his union sticking up for him? Or is this a non-union shop?

Notice the pilot in that Asianic Airline is not being thrown under the bus, in fact the pilots union has come out and BLASTED the FAA for some of the comments they have made before any sort of real invest has been done.

bigbassloyd
07-11-2013, 11:12 PM
That wasn't the company; the media dug up the information several days ago.

-Jacques

Which would have been a non-point had Mr. Burkhardt not fingered him while on the record..

Loyd L.

jac_murphy
07-12-2013, 04:58 AM
Which would have been a non-point had Mr. Burkhardt not fingered him while on the record..

Loyd L.

True enough.

Where is his union sticking up for him? Or is this a non-union shop?

Notice the pilot in that Asianic Airline is not being thrown under the bus, in fact the pilots union has come out and BLASTED the FAA for some of the comments they have made before any sort of real invest has been done.

MMA employees in Quebec are represented by the Syndicat des Métallos (a USW subsidiary) and the union has issued a statement in French blasting the company and its policies, not the least of which was one-man operation.

-Jacques

ShortlinesUSA
08-07-2013, 07:54 PM
As was highly expected, the MMA is now officially in bankruptcy protection:

http://www.wcsh6.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=252438&utm_source=twitterfeed\&utm_medium=twitter

troy12n
08-08-2013, 10:17 AM
As was highly expected, the MMA is now officially in bankruptcy protection:

http://www.wcsh6.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=252438&utm_source=twitterfeed\&utm_medium=twitter

Shocking... shortline operators are a bunch of shysters

Joe the Photog
08-08-2013, 12:20 PM
Shocking... shortline operators are a bunch of shysters
My, what a broad brush you use to paint a picture.

ShortlinesUSA
08-08-2013, 01:37 PM
Agreed, and quite ill-informed, too. Troy, why don't you enlighten us on how many contacts you personally know in the regional and shortline industry, and what leads you to draw such a conclusion after examining their business models and practices?

ShortlinesUSA
08-13-2013, 05:03 PM
And here's the next step in the process:

http://preview.reuters.com/2013/8/13/canada-suspends-operating-license-for-quebec-1?topic=business

Joe the Photog
08-13-2013, 07:24 PM
From the article --

A spokeswoman for MMA Chairman Ed Burkhardt said he was unaware of the agency's move

Not sure how you could be "unaware" your railroad was being shut down.

ShortlinesUSA
08-19-2014, 06:22 PM
The final report on this tragic accident has been released:

http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/rail/2013/r13d0054/r13d0054.asp

Lots of factors cited at the operational, company, and oversight levels. This is very much written as an "organizational failure" rather than simply focusing on an inadequate amount of handbrakes set and not tested.